Supporting their studies at home

Whether you love it or hate it, homework is a component of your children’s education. It is a given. In our busy lives with schedules full of sports, dance, music lessons, and the like, families may find it difficult to set educational responsibilities as a high priority. Although parents everywhere want their children to succeed in school, according to Sharon P. Robinson of the U.S. Department of Education, many parents err more on the side of slighting the importance of nightly homework than in giving too much help. There are those parents who make the mistake of doing the work themselves for a variety of reasons, but they are in the minority, and teachers will always spot such activity.

So what are the proper ways to deal with nightly homework assignments for our children? First of all, be sure that you understand the purpose of homework. It offers a number of benefits, but foremost are review and practice of new material, practice in independent research and study, developing good habits and attitudes toward learning, going further in a subject than can be done in limited class time, and preparing for the next step in learning which will be presented during the upcoming class session.

Once adults see the purpose of homework, it is easier to properly support it.

The amount of nightly homework should vary according to age. Most experts agree that for grades 1-3 there should be about 20-30 minutes of homework per night. For grades 4-6 it should increase to about 40 minutes to an hour, and from grade 7 and upward it may reach two hours or more. Clearly, by age 11 or 12 children need to be able to do independent work and quite a lot of it. This is where parents can play a huge role in starting from the early years to support good homework habits.

The entire family should be on board with support of nightly homework routines. Here are some tips for setting expectations from the beginning of a school career:

• Set regular study times. You may need to be flexible, but never skip it.

• Provide a place to study with proper lighting, materials, and resources.

• Remove distractions. Some can study with soft music, but television, loud music, or other children playing will distract from quality work.

• Be a good example by reading and modeling a lifelong learning attitude.

• Monitor assignments, know what your child is doing, and check over completed assignments.

• Keep lines of communication open with teachers and schools.

Success in training children to become independent learners begins at an early age with parental interest and support. The difference between supporting and doing too much for children is really quite easy to determine. It is appropriate to review information with children by asking them questions and listening to their answers. It is helpful to step in when children are “stumped” and discover together where they need help. It is helpful to train them to break large assignments into smaller chunks. It is fine to allow them to take a break when the going is tough and then try again. But it is never fine to do their assignments for them.

If homework is a problem for any reason, it is a good idea to talk with teachers quickly before the problem grows. Perhaps together you can work out the problems of too much work, assignments that don’t seem to challenge, or any other problem which may arise. Teachers have a purpose for their homework assignments, and teacher-parent cooperation helps children realize you think it’s important, too. Setting sound homework practices now will pay dividends for years to come.

Jan Pierce is a retired teacher, reading specialist, and a freelance writer. She is the author of Homegrown Readers and Homegrown Family Fun. Find Jan at